I'm writing a novel and in it there are periods of time, sometimes even months, that are not very intersting. I want to skip a bit, but then I feel the need to recap those months in a few sentences or a few paragraphs. Obviously, this is telling and not showing, but is it acceptable telling? Can I just say that someone went home for the holidays and nothing got better without showing the whole holiday scene? Can I move on to the parts where things begin to change?
Posts: 3567 | Registered: May 2003
The only time that I read something like that, that I felt worked well was when the author interspersed regular intervals of time between other chapters of a story, and annotated them with notes to a diary from the main character. It worked because it was easy to figure out how much time passed, and it provided an alternative viewpoint of the events of the story.
Now, I have also seen newspaper excerpts as chapter headings as well. Perhaps that would work for you?
Nothing so grand as newspapers...this is all on a personal level. I don't think there should be confusion about how much time has passed, though, since I either name the month or the nearest holiday in each chapter. (If you don't know when Christmas is, I'm not writing this story for whatever audience you fall into. ) I'm more concerned that whatever small things happen in the intervening time will beg to be told in more detail for some, but I'm not interested in writing those parts both because they're not that interesting and I don't want a 200k novel.
Posts: 3567 | Registered: May 2003
As always, yes. However, you will have to decide how comfortable you are with doing that. If you show instead of tell, you may not end up with the same story; the story you really want to tell.
For now, I would vote for writing it the way that feels right to you. There is no rule that says you can't go back tailor the manuscript.
You may choose to write it without much detail and by summarizing sections of time, but when you re-read it you might decide it sounds too choppy. Or you might find that you wrote too much and you just end up boring yourself; so you cut.
The idea of show vs tell is not to only show, and never tell, but instead to show more than you tell. In my opinion the ratio should be about 10:1, though it varies. In the Bourne Identity, by Ludlum, that ratio would be about 1000 to 1, and in others, much less. But in any story there must be, by some necessity, a certain amount of tell, otherwise you're going to tire us out, not to mention leaving out crucial details, or on the flipside, include every second of every day that passes in the story, and end up receiving angry letters from irate readers who spent a week reading a book that spanned a day.
Posts: 331 | Registered: Jan 2005
I think almost any book is going to have to do some telling rather than showing or else you end up reading in real-time, with events taking as long to read as they do to occur. That could really bloat your word count if your character has to make a three week journey. Narrative summary certainly has its place, and using it to skip things that are not essential to the plot, or are too time-consuming to be interesting to the reader is certainly a valid use for it. The caveat, as always, is not to overdo it and summarize events that are important enough to warrant being written out as a full scene.
I wish I could remember who said this, but I heard a quote from an author that when asked how he wrote such exciting books he replied something to the effect that â€śI leave out the parts people skip.â€ť I for one as a reader appreciate that!
ChrisOwens, I think I read the book you are referring to, but the title was slightly different. Mine was called "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers." If it is the same book, I liked it and thought it had quite a bit of good advice and handled narrative summary well. I also liked the section about â€śbeatsâ€ť in dialogue.
YES. SKIP THE DULL PARTS. If it bores you, it's bound to bore me.
OTOH, big mistake IMHO in the novel _Mysterium_, about a small Michigan town, thrown to a parallel reality. The government of the North American Alliance discovers it, and does a blitzkreig on it, sending in tanks, killing several people. And the author _summarized_ it. Maybe because he wasn't comfortable writing about war. But I wanted to read that way more than reading how people felt about it afterwards.
I haven't read all the replies, so sorry if I'm repeating anybody.
I like to just 100% skip the parts where nothing of note is happening. Don't even mention them. I figure, if I don't mention them, people will assume nothing happened that they would care about. I don't even like to give them a "nothing happened for the next six months" line, because that is a REALLY boring way to begin or end a section/chapter, which is where those parts tend to fall.
Christine, I'll reference my last story from our group, "The Glass Womb". I'm not saying I did it well, that's up to you to decide, but I did it. Each section happens a couple months later than the last section, and the intervening time is never mentioned. I put indicators at the beginning of the sections to show how much time had passed, but that's it. Like I said, you can decide whether doing it like that works or not, but that's an example of what I'm talking about. Of everybody to whom I've given that story to read, nobody has asked what happened in the "in between time."
quote:You don't have a problem skipping things like people sleeping and stuff, right?
actually, survivor, sometimes i do :P
there are times that i feel this stuff OUGHT to be included, the reason being that the author summarizes after the fact a dream or some other activity that has import to the story just because of some silly constraint they feel about showing it.
if it is important to the story, show it, even if it occurs in bed.
You know...if it makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, just write it and be done. Good, bad, interesting, essential to the plot or not -- this is what editors are for. And second drafts. Whatever you need to do to get to the end of that novel is really the most important thing.
Posts: 280 | Registered: Jul 2003
Yeah, but Christine's talking about stuff that isn't important.
An important dream (or one that affects the story at all) is probably about 2-3 minutes of the time the character was in bed. A lot of other important stuff happened during the rest of that time, as you will see if you try skipping sleep a couple of nights running. But you just don't mention it because sleeping doesn't need to be mentioned. It would be not sleeping that you would describe.
There's a whole boatload of techniques you can use to avoid the problem at all. For instance, you can show only a tiny portion of what happened inbetween events, or when the character went home for Christmas, or whatever. Tell about how he was taking a break, and then show a little scene where he discusses something relevent to the story with his parents. Maybe half a page of dialogue preceeded by a paragraph explaining this new turn of events.
Another option is to just start a new chapter, or even a new subchapter. The first few lines would be something which implied that time has passed... "He got back from his vacation in the Taiwan three weeks later. Luckily, he didn't catch VD this time. There were seventeen messages on his answering machine, thirteen of them being from Bob." where Bob was a character in the book before the vacation.
There's a whole bunch of ways to handle this. I'm sure you can think of something.
I think covering the time lag has nothing to do with show vs. tell. To me show v tell is simply an approach to dealing with description, setting, action, and emotion.
Covering a time lag, on the other hand, is simply moving the narrative to where the story next goes forward. If nothing of note happens in the intervening months, then don't sweat it. LIke suvivor said, we sleep, so be it.
It's like the car-ride syndrome (of which I've been very guilty in the past) -- too many of us aspiring writers spend too much time in cars and busses and trains and plains, spending countless precious words on the trip, when all that matters to the story is that "Bob went to New York."
Time is the same. End one scene as you normally would, then begin the next scene with a simple statement of the time difference and move on. "Three months later, Bob found himself back in Baltimore..." or whatever. If years and years have gone by, then you can briefly sumarize significant events that will shape the character's perceptions and actions: marriage, deaths of friends or family, etc. Stuff that may not be pertinent to the story, but which will affect the character nonetheless.
Look at the transitions between books within a series and there's often a great time-lag. Sometimes the time difference isn't even mentioned, it's carried out in the clues you receive in the narrative. Bean is an adult now. Peter is once again Hegemon, etc...no EXACT time may be given, but we assume a fair amount of days/weeks/months have passed.
People sleep, people travel, and time passes. These things happen, so we only need mention them when they hold something of significance or value, or when they change considerably.